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No. 5 UConn begins Big East play vs. Seton Hall

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The defending national champions finished a daunting nonconference slate with a convincing win.

But No. 5 UConn, of all teams, should know that getting through the Big East is another matter.

The Huskies will open conference play against Seton Hall on Wednesday in Newark, N.J.

UConn (10-1) faced then-No. 10 Gonzaga on Saturday in Seattle, amounting to a road game even though Gonzaga’s campus is in Spokane, Wash. In a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight blowout, the Huskies never trailed en route to a 76-63 victory.

Donovan Clingan paced UConn with 21 points and eight rebounds and Cam Spencer added 15 points, four rebounds and three steals. UConn shot 55.8 percent from the floor, but coach Dan Hurley was more impressed with his team holding Gonzaga to 39 percent shooting overall and 2-of-12 success from 3-point range.

“The difference between last year and this year is that defensive intensity, that identity, to be able to win a game by getting stops,” Hurley said. “We shot the cover off the ball in the first half, and the second half we didn’t make a three (0-for-8), so we won it with defense. That’s what elite teams do.”

UConn also has Top 25 wins over Texas (81-71) and North Carolina (87-76), and its only loss was a 69-65 road setback against fellow top-five team Kansas.

The Huskies, therefore, are riding high as they begin Big East play — just like last season, when UConn took a 14-0 record into New Year’s Eve before losing six of its next eight games. The Huskies were able to right the ship and go on to win the national title.

One of the losses in that rut came at Seton Hall. UConn blew a 14-point halftime lead and fell 67-66 on KC Ndefo’s putback layup with two seconds left.

Hurley missed that game after testing positive for COVID-19. He is a former Seton Hall point guard whose UConn teams are just 4-3 against the Pirates, including the game he didn’t attend.

Seton Hall (7-4) might have some leftover energy on Wednesday after taking down Missouri 93-87 on Sunday in Kansas City, Mo.

“The last few games we’ve been playing with the weight of the world on our shoulders,” Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway said in a postgame radio interview. “I thought everybody came out loose, and it’s always good to make shots. We just played and didn’t worry about mistakes.”

All five Seton Hall starters scored in double figures, led by Al-Amir Dawes’ career-high-tying 25 points and Dylan Addae-Wusu’s best game of the season (20 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals).

Ndefo has graduated, but UConn still has to worry about Kadary Richmond. The guard had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the upset win last January. This season, Richmond leads Seton Hall with averages of 14.7 points and 4.4 assists per game and ranks second on the team in rebounding (6.1 per contest).

Richmond’s counterpart on UConn is Tristen Newton, one of the most dynamic players in college basketball this season. He leads the Huskies in scoring (16.3 points per ggame), rebounding (6.8), assists (6.0) and steals (1.5).

Thanks partly to Clingan (13.9 ppg, 63.8 percent shooting), the Huskies ranked ninth in Division I through the weekend with a 51.3 percent rate from the floor.

–Field Level Media

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